All's well that ends well - but only just

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2012, 12:00am


Given that there has been three days since the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, the most anticipated, watched or assessed race in history, the likelihood of the next thousand words offering something on Black Caviar which has not already been tweeted, twisted, blogged, bludgeoned, broadcast, crafted or crammed into the racing world's consciousness is probably low.

Nevertheless, an aspect that has escaped serious attention is just what kind of dollars were on the line in the last couple of strides of the race. Yes, we know it wasn't about the money but the glory. Still, defeat in the pursuit of that glory would have carried with it a financial blow of at least A$600,000 (HK$4.66 million) and potentially around A$2.2 million in that currency.

Black Caviar was shooting for a A$600,000 bonus offered by Melbourne racing authorities for winning the 2011 Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington plus another Global Sprint Challenge (GSC) race before the end of July. The Diamond Jubilee was that race, although the July Cup alternative would also have secured that bonus.

As we understand it, as the winner of the Diamond Jubilee, Black Caviar is now eligible for another A$600,000 bonus if she wins this year's Patinack at the Melbourne Cup carnival in November. Fit and well and back to her usual form, there is no reason to think she wouldn't.

And then there's the other bonus for the GSC, which has received more airplay - US$1 million if Black Caviar can win GSC races in three separate countries. It is to that bonus that Hong Kong officials are clinging in hope of having the mare at Sha Tin in December as a six-year-old.

We'll believe that when we see it, after an experience which would have jolted connections last weekend. Hong Kong offers them the prospect of another lengthy bit of travel, better competition and right-handed racing, which Black Caviar has already flagged as not being her 'druthers'. But it is some significant money on the table, especially for a sprinter as sprinters have traditionally been racing's poor relations in the prize-money area.

To suggest Black Caviar wasn't anywhere near her best is already so well worn it needs patches; the more intriguing side of the bleeding obvious is just how much might such a performance have been anticipated and whether there was any consideration of whether she would line up, given what would have been extraordinary pressure to run.

Black Caviar was not herself long before Luke Nolen stopped asking her to stretch and the mare responded with the equine equivalent of 'thank God for that'.

Her demeanour in the parade was most unlike her. In Australia, she is more in danger of falling asleep and missing her race curled up on a pile of straw somewhere, than being at all fiery. At Ascot she was a different animal, unhappy with the world and apparently requiring two handlers in the parade for the first time in her life.

And we are aware of quite a few racing professionals - vets, trainers and jockeys - who had no doubt Black Caviar was lame going to the start of Saturday's race.

In fairness, that does require knowledge of the normal gait of the horse in that situation but, if her normal gait makes Black Caviar look like Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, it doesn't seem to have come up before.

Now, this line of argument is not a table at which trainer Peter Moody would be buying a seat at any price.

He would undoubtedly put forward that under no circumstances would Black Caviar have been put at risk, regardless of the occasion or however many thousand of his compatriots had gone to Ascot, or however many million were watching on television.

For all we know it was seen on Mars. And with the race over, job done and the cheque not far off being banked, there would be nothing to be gained in Moody engaging in any debate about what state Black Caviar might have been pre-race, mental or physical - all's well that ends well, even if she has emerged from the race with soft tissue problems.

And that makes Moody kin to every other trainer that ever put a saddle on a good horse. Just over 30 years ago, one of the greats of Australian racing, Kingston Town, was barely right a day at a time from his first Cox Plate to his third. He hung by a thread constantly, but managed to race and beat the best until he was six.

His trainer, the ever-positive Tommy Smith, grinned and laughed and winked his way through it and reiterated there was nothing amiss. And he was vindicated each time the horse won. Great horses find a way to win when lesser beasts would not.

Whatever was not right about Black Caviar - if in fact we are not just seeing things and back-fitting the story to the race finish - Moody was duty bound to give positive reports and expect the whole scenario to look after itself on the day. It's a game played between trainers and the media. Uncountable are the times we have had the report pre-race 'everything is good, couldn't be happier' but told, post-failure and often off the record that 'I knew he wasn't right because of such and such'.

Horses bordering on being scratched at 7am with leg or foot problems have often won Group Ones at 3pm. Excuses waiting to happen in defeat, but problems valiantly overcome in victory.

The fact is nobody wants to be the one saying a horse has a problem, or even a potential problem, then having egg on their face when it does win. A horse with a positive report that doesn't win? That happens all the time.

Doubtless Frankel was the takeaway memory of Royal Ascot and perhaps Black Caviar's nail-biting denouement was the only way she could have seared herself into the collective memory, since it was unlikely she could match that colt's romp.

For Hong Kong, the equally obvious takeaway was Little Bridge, who must surely present a strong case for Horse of the Year, albeit with just the one Group One win. His achievement in winning the King's Stand Stakes was the major single achievement by any horse during the season - and maybe that is enough to hang the Horse of the Year hat upon.

While Hong Kong's sprinters have lately been a more even bunch at the top than we had been used to for nearly a decade, Little Bridge's win was a nice reminder of the very solid if not exceptional strength of the sector, following on from Sweet Sanette's unheralded third in the same race 12 months ago.

With a date in Japan on the cards later in the year for the Sprinters Stakes, perhaps Little Bridge will be lining up with Black Caviar in December, and both of them shooting for a US$1 million bonus.

Well, we're reasonably sure at least he'll be there.


The (US$) carrot that is waiting for Black Caviar if she can win in Hong Kong in December